Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mark Dever Responds to Critics

Over at the 9Marks blog, Mark Dever responds to his critics "The Sin of Infant Baptism", written by a sinning Baptist.

Dever writes with genuine humility and honest charity (esp. in his quote from J.L. Reynolds). It is a good response to his critics. As I said, I have no beef with Baptists being Baptist and holding to their own way (as Dever passionately does). Yet, I still think the term "sinful" is not a useful description for those brothers and sisters whose theology deviates from yours, mine or anyone elses on non-essential areas. I might be convinced that continuationism is correct, but I wouldn't call cessationists "sinful". I might find historical pre-millennialism more persuasive, but I wouldn't say postmillennialism is "sinful". I think open communion is more biblical, but I wouldn't say that those who practice closed communion are sinful. I say that because there are degrees of theological certainty. On subjects that call for theological construction we need to have a hermeneutic of humility in areas that are contestable because we do not have a God's eye-view of things. I think Dever would agree with that in principle, but his language could be construed to suggest otherwise. Dever says: "It is simply that on this point they've got it wrong, and their error, involving as it does a requiring of something Scripture does not require (infant baptism), and the consequence of a denying of an action Scripture does require (believers baptism) is sinful (though unintentionally so)." Dever admits that he is theologically fallible, but that concession needs to be integrated more fully into his quote above and this, I think, would lead to a different articulation of how to handle theological differences even if you're convinced that you're right!

Ephesians 4.4-5 says: "There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (ESV). In his Ephesians commentary, F.F. Bruce asks what baptism is referred to here, is it believers baptism or infant baptism? He answers: "It is Christian baptism", i.e. any baptism performed in the name of Jesus Christ. No doubt that will be a bit vacuous for some, but he had a point (and he was a good old Brethren boy!).

I should also mention that IVP has a book on Three Views of Baptism coming out featuring Sinclair Ferguson, Bruce Ware, and Tony Lane. I understand Tony Lane is arguing for some kind of both/and view rather like the Evangelical Free Church. That will be a good volume to read no doubt!
Rick Phillips of Reformation21 provides a further paedo-baptist response to Mark Dever which raises similar concerns to the ones that I have.


Andrew Richardson said...

I think Dever justifies his use of 'sin' language quite well, but he doesn't address the question of the Lord's Supper.
Given that he admits we are all likely to have this kind of sin because of our human fallability surely, if he is going to prohibit those baptised as infants from the Lord's Table, he is going to have to prohibit everyone.

Alison B said...

Thanks for posting a follow-up Michael. The extra articulation here takes some of the sting out of the soggy-fish award.

Kyle said...

In regard to the F.F. Bruce quote, most, if not all, ecclesially passionate Baptists would deny infant baptism is "Christian baptism." The quote sounds nice, but I don't think it really sheds much light on the issue.

Avey said...

I also don't think that 'sin'in this context is useful, and the examples given are a fair parallel.

I think God recognizes diversity, and in fact encourages it. Looking at the Pharisees, we can see an objection to such dogma. We can be united in Christ and still have different takes on some things - they don't equal sin. Absolutes are fine, historically we have had many absolutes that have been expressed in such a way later rethought. Some condemned as Heretics in their own day are now thought very differently. I agree in one danger in child baptism.. the state introduced national nominalism when Constantine made it so. It is no excuse for the baby and bath water syndrome though.

Preston Sprinkle said...


I think your analysis is very sound and your criticism justified (even if you have a very warped view on what a real sport is!). As your examples in the first paragraph show, there is nothing gained (yet much that can be lost) by using the term sinful in these matters. If we used this sort of rhetoric in other similar areas, can you imagine what this would look like? Christians calling other Christians sinful because they don’t agree with their theological tradition. Imagine. Well, I guess we don’t have to imagine, we can simply see it in so many circles as this incident shows.

PJ Tibayan said...

First of all I think to say this is an issue of importance for Baptists (with a capital "B") equals caring about this more than the gospel is an unfair and unnecessary caricature that sets up a false dichotomy.

Secondly, if one believes one must baptize babies in obedience to the Lord and others do not do that, isn't that disobedience from their perspective? That works both ways. I have a hard time saying, "as best I understand Scripture, Presbyterians are disobeying the Lord's command to baptize new disciples, but that is disobedience in my view, not sin in my view." How can it be one and not the other if we are speaking honestly and consistently with what we see (as best we can though not perfectly) in Scripture?

Nick said...

Perhaps it would be 'sin' to endorse a book that explains the gospel in a way that doesn't even mention the resurrection of the Messiah...;-)

Christopher Zodrow said...

The implication of not baptizing children is the declaration that they are heathen, outside of the covenant promise given to Abraham. But, this is to assume that God is unable to apply His promise to a non-rationalizing individual.

Abraham understood the covenant as applying to all his household, and so he circumcised even Ishmael, who would later reject and abandon the promise.

But, Abraham was obedient to the command. This is the key issue: not how much we know, but how much God promises and commands.

Matt Viney said...

what kind of baptism?
what kind of 'worship style'?
which Bible version?
pre- a- or post-millenial?
what denomination?
what model of church governance?
liturgy or not?
how do dinosaurs fit with Genesis?


I just pray that someone in my family would put their faith in Jesus. THAT'S what is important to me. The idea that nearly everyone dearest to me is facing eternity in hell makes many of these doctrinal debates look rather spiteful and picky. It's not that establishing solid biblical doctrine isn't important - but it's so discouraging to see the amount of energy Christians expend trying to discredit each other's theology. I mean, REALLY discouraging.
That's why I respect Mr Bird's efforts in SROG - a calm voice seeking to clearly balance the Biblical data. Whether you think Michael is right or wrong in his conclusions, I simply love the tone of his academic work.

Irv said...

"Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" is actually a scholarly, documented paper that names names and is currently appearing on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site. Definitely not recommended by Walvoord, Ryrie, LaHaye, Ice etc.!